By of 1945, the Allied Air Forces enjoyed strong air supremacy across most of Europe. The home skies of the UK were growing ever safer. On the evening of 3/4th Match 1945, The Luftwaffe displayed a harrowing tactic that, had they only deployed it earlier in the war, could have had harrowing and far reaching effects on the Allied Air Bombing Campaign.
It also turned out to be an eventful and fatal night for the French aircrews flying from Elvington and also some nearby residents of the airfield.
In the early hours of 4th March 1945, in Unternehmen (Operation) Gisela, 200 Junkers JU88 nightfighters of the Luftwaffe Nachtjagdeschwader Gruppen (Night Fighter destroyer Group)were deployed to intercept the allied bombers returning to base at their most vulnerable point, just before landing.
These marauding German aircraft crossed the North Sea at points stretching from the Thames Estuary to the east coast to the North Yorkshire moors.
The fact that these intruders were able to cross the North Sea coast without being picked up by English radar operators would suggest a result of a degree of complacency that had set in amongst Bomber Command, as the Luftwaffe by 1945 the Allied Air Forces were dominant.
Their objective was to intercept returning aircraft in the final moments of their mission, at a point of maximum tiredness and just as aircrews were beginning to relax after the tensions of flying over enemy territory.
The Allied Bomber Command mission scheduled for this evening was a dual attack on the synthetic oil producing plant at Kamen and a raid on the Dortmund Elms canal. 234 aircraft from the northern 4 & 6 Groups took on the first mission, with 222 bombers from 5 Group, Lincolnshire, tackling the canal, departing bases at around 10.00pm on the 3rd March 1945.
The mission ran smoothly, until the return, when they ran into trouble in the form of Operation Gisela. It is a clear night and some of the early returning aircraft had inexplicably switched on their navigation lights much earlier than usual, despite warnings of the dangers of possible predators, which was copied by those following.
This gave the circling German intruders a clear, enticing target.
Having already claimed two Halifax Bombers of 158 Squadron returning to RAF Lissett, near Bridlington, Hauptmann Johann Dreher (Iron Cross) flying his Junkers JU88 of 12 NJG, set his sights on a French 347 Squadron Halifax, returning to RAF Elvington. At approximately 1.50am as Capitaine Notelle approached Elvington, he received the warning of the attack.
Suddenly all of the airfield lights went out, as Elvington had electric runway lighting by this time. He pulled his aircraft up and headed north for Croft, narrowly escaping the menacing intruder.
The night fighter continued its attack on Elvington, strafing the road at a passing taxi. Circling for another pass at 1.51am, the JU88 was too low, clipped a tree and crashed into Dunnington Lodge, a farmhouse on the outskirts of the airfield.
Machine gun fire from the fighter had strafed the farmhouse, before the aircraft crashed through one section of the building. Here, farmer Richard Moll and his wife, Helen (60), were awakening, having been startled by the gunfire. Their daughter in law, Violet (29) was making her way to their bedroom when the aircraft struck. Meanwhile, her husband, Fred, was saving the life of their 3-year old son, Edgar, by scooping the child up in one arm and, with fire extinguisher in the other, fighting his way through flames and debris to the outside.
Tragically, both his wife and mother died as a result of their injuries, shortly after admission to hospital. Richard Moll survived initially, but, suffering severe burns and died later. The JU88 ended up in a field at the junction of the Elvington and Dunnington roads.
This was the last German aircraft to crash on British soil during the war, preceded by a 7 NJG JU88 crashing at Welton, near Lincoln at 1.48am and 5 NJG JU88 crashing near Halesworth, Suffolk, at 01.37am.
Three of Elvington’s French Halifaxes were brought down that morning, though with miraculously few casualties. Attempting to reach Croft and having escaped the trap at Elvington, Notelle’s Halifax was hit three times by fire from the JU88 of Feldwebel Gunther Schmidt, before he successfully belly-landed the burning aircraft at Rockcliffe Farm, Hurworth, near Darlington.
All crew escaped, but some reports suggest that two civilians were killed by the skidding aircraft. Notelle was treated at hospital at Northallerton for a head injury.
Sous-Lieutenant Terrien himself, remaining at the controls of his burning Halifax whilst the other six baled out, crashed at Glebe Farm, Sutton on Derwent, close to the Elvington base.
Further south, Capitaine Laucou, on his first mission, was brought down near Orford Ness, Norfolk, reflecting the extent to which the returning aircraft had been scattered by the attackers. Both he and the flight engineer were killed, but the others baled out.
Intervention by Mosquito fighters brought this disastrous Night of the Intruders to an end, but, in just a couple of hours, Bomber Command had lost a further 19 aircraft in addition to the 9 reported missing on the raids themselves. The Luftwaffe also lost 25 fighters out of the 200 involved in the operation.
It could be argued that if the tactics used by the Luftwaffe in Operation Gisela had been introduced much earlier, the effect on Bomber Command would have been catastrophic and altered the tactics of RAF Bomber Commands strategy, perhaps even the course of the war.
The fact that our home here at Elvington is the site of the last German fighter to crash over British soil is of national significance and adds to the unique history on which the Yorkshire Air Museum is based.